Oral Histories

Ron Culp

Interview Segments on Topic: Code of Ethics/Mission Statement/Credo

Ron Culp Biography

Ron Culp is the professional director of the Graduate PRAD program at DePaul University and an independent public relations consultant. He was the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Midwest operations of Ketchum, has a 30-year career that spans a broad range of communications activities in government and the business-to-business, consumer products, pharmaceutical and retailing industries. Most recently, he was Managing Director and Chairman of Citigate Sard Verbinnen, where he established the agency's highly successful Chicago office. Culp also served as SVP of PR, government affairs, communications, and community relations for Sears, Roebuck and Co. for 10 years.


Interviewer: Do you believe it’s important for a corporation to have a mission statement or a credo and should ethics training be provided for the staff of agencies as well as corporate PR?

Culp: Wow two questions. The, the credo I think is important for a company, especially an iconic company that, that has, has a mission beyond maybe selling a product, you know that there’s some reason to exist. Overall mission statements I’m not a big fan of. I’ve spent, I started to say hours but I spent days, weeks, and months developing mission statements that you could easily try to have a guessing game as to what company, it wasn’t identified by the company it represents, because they are all the same essentially. So I think you need, you need something internally for people to rally around, but a mission statement is usually too long and boring and self-serving to the point that no one, It doesn’t have credibility. So at Sears we had we threw out the mission statement and said that we created something under Arthur Martin our new CEO called three Cs. And we rallied a new organization around three basic things that we wanted them to do. We decided that if you make this a compelling place to work that that’s going to turn into a compelling place to shop for our customers and therefore that turns into a compelling place to invest for shareholders. So we called it the 3 Cs. And sometimes the three ‘Compellings.’ And we, that caught on like lightening, we had mission statement after mission statement after mission statement before that for 117 years. And within three months of the 3 Cs you could go into any store in the United States and ask any level employee what that 3 Cs stood for and they could tell you. And what happens? Sales increase and the stock goes up because you got a single focus for the organization and everyone agreed that it was so basic that I don’t have to have a lot of words to explain it. So I think if it’s kept simple it really works.

Now with reference to your question on ethics training, I think ethics training is critically important but it can’t be sophomoric, that it has to be almost fun and it to get engaged with because it makes you think more than, “Don’t do this. Do this. Don’t do this.” That’s not the case. But take examples of things where there may be a lot of gray area and then how would you respond, and see how people respond. Not as a test to say “You’re stupid. You don’t get it.” But to have them understand that a lot of ethical issues we’re facing are really gray areas. There were ethical issues in the Oraflex debate that we had around a table of people. Should you when you know that 11 people in the United Kingdom have died, should you proceed with launching the product? When you might have had some personal concerns about it. And was it sufficient that your medical advise, advisor said no absolutely not. Or should you say let’s just give a little bit more time, and so those kinds of issues. You could have played that. But, so, so getting people to really think, I think it kind of raised the level on where the ethical standards are and it doesn’t become like you know mom and dad saying no you can’t do that. But engage them in what are the proper ethical standards and I think it, it helps people understand that it’s not black and white.

Interviewer: That's right. The case method is an important pedagogy in education.

Culp: Oh good.

Interviewer: You’re right. Oh and here’s a real important question. So is it credo or credo? Because I’ve heard everybody pronounces it differently.

Culp: Well and you are not going to get into trouble for pronouncing it either way because I use both.